Catheter ablation is a non-surgical technique used to pinpoint and interrupt specific abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). State-of-the-art mapping equipment is used to generate 3D images of the heart’s chambers to locate the area causing the arrhythmia. This helps physicians to determine if catheter ablation is a treatment option. In many cases, this option is preferable to medications with side effects.
How Catheter Ablation Is Performed
The ablation is performed by a cardiac electrophysiologist. A thin plastic tube—called a catheter—with an electrode tip is inserted into a blood vessel in your arm, groin, or neck. Using high-resolution fluoroscopic (X-ray) video and film equipment, the catheter is guided through to the heart. The electrode delivers energy through the catheter to create a lesion or scar to destroy (ablate) the location of the electrical cells of the heart that are causing the arrhythmia. This procedure is performed in a cardiovascular catheterization laboratory, with local anesthesia. An IV (intravenous line) into your arm or hand will provide you with medication to make the procedure as comfortable as possible.
Types of Ablation
- Radiofrequency ablation—a nonsurgical technique used to treat ventricular tachycardias, a type of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). During catheter ablation an electrode is guided through the artery to the heart muscle where there's an accessory pathway (additional electrical pathway). Then a mild pulse of painless radiofrequency energy (similar to microwave heat) is transmitted to the site of the pathway. Heart muscle cells in a very small area are destroyed (ablated) to stop the heart muscle cells from conducting the extra impulses that cause rapid heartbeats.
- Cryoablation—an effective alternative to radiofrequency ablation which uses cold energy (cryo) instead of heat to treat specific types of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). During catheter ablation hollow needles (cryoprobes) are guided through the artery to the heart muscle where there's an accessory pathway (additional electrical pathway). The cryoprobes are pressed against the heart muscle cells to freeze the abnormal tissue and to destroy (ablate) the cells. This stops the heart muscle cells from conducting the extra impulses that cause rapid heartbeats.
- Fluoroless—a radiation-free alternative treatment option for cardiac arrhythmias. During fluoroless ablation the physician uses a 3D navigation system to guide the catheters in the heart. The catheters then emit small electrical pulses to treat the arrhythmia.
Patient Guides: Preparing for Cardiac and Peripheral Catheterization